Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Quarantine Reads

Here’s a post at The Passive Voice blog: Quarantine Reads — Dhalgren.

I started reading Samuel Delany’s Dhalgren, a prismatic, nightmarish work of speculative fiction, in New York City a couple weeks ago, when the coronavirus had just begun to spread into the West. Italy had fallen and the threat in the United States was imminent, but the real panic and anxiety still hadn’t sunk in...

This is from an article in The Paris Review, not from The Passive Guy himself. Not that it matters; I was just struck by the idea that anybody would pick a “prismatic, nightmarish work” for quarantine reading.

I’m currently reading The Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan. Sorry, the computer I’m using doesn’t want me to post an image. Whatever, computer. I’ll add a picture later when I get a chance, maybe.

A quiet seaside resort. An abandoned shop. A small flat. This is what awaits Polly Waterford when she arrives at the Cornish coast, fleeing a ruined relationship.

The book, if not this particular computer, is perfect. The puffin is almost too much, but no, I’m actually okay with a pet baby puffin that acts like it was raised by hand and is still being called a puffling (yes, that’s very cute; yes, that’s what baby puffins are called) even though it can fly well enough to get into trouble.

Cute, is what I’m saying, but not so over-the-top cutesy that it turns me off.

The thing I’m liking about this story is the resurrection of the abandoned bakery into a warm, fragrant working bakery. It’s very soothing to read about someone putting things to rights, especially relatively simple things like a bakery, though one presumes Polly will also put her personal life in order by the end of the book.

Anyway, though it is different in every possible way, The Little Beach Street Bakery reminds me of Merrie Haskel’s Castle Behind Thorns. You recall, that’s the one where a boy, a blacksmith’s apprentice, wakes up in an abandoned castle. The first half of the story is him, all by himself, putting the castle back in order. It’s a great story in lots of ways. I may re-read that next.

What are you all reading at the moment? Something prismatic and nightmarish? Or something a bit more soothing?

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9 Comments Quarantine Reads

  1. Hanneke

    I just finished Joanna Bourne’s Napoleonic spies series. Not exactly a relaxing comfort read, but exiting enough for a distraction, and all’s well that ends well, I guess, though I ended up feeling restless rather than relaxed and content when I’d finished the series.

    Now I’m reading Sharon Shinn’s Troubled waters. I tried to start it twice before and somehow didn’t get past the beginning, with the cremation in the village: not that I took it in dislike, but it just didn’t feel like what I was in the mood for, then.
    I really didn’t know at all what I felt like reading after the spy romances, sort of unsettled, and you-all have recommended it several times, so now I’m sticking with Troubled waters, and probably the rest of the series after that, and hoping that’ll settle me down again. We’re still in semi-lockdown here, so getting restless is no good here and now .

  2. Pete Mack

    Great Influenza of 1918, John Barry. I just finished it. US has made nearly all the same mistakes this time around, with following exceptions:
    No world war, no press censorship, and failure to ID the nature of the disease. (The latter just doesn’t happen nowadays.)

    But initial neglect, failure to isolate, lies, and more. So much was utterly predictable and ignored by all policymakers.

  3. Mary Beth

    This reminds me a lot of Rosamund Pilcher’s books, which are absolutely a comfort read for me, so I’m picking it up now!

    I just finished reading Nghi Vo’s new novella THE EMPRESS OF SALT AND FORTUNE, which was really good even if not quite what I was expecting: it’s the story of an empress who overthrew a dynasty, as told sixty years later by her handmaiden to the cleric who is attempting to chronicle the house in which the empress once lived in exile. Beautifully written but still held at a distance, which might actually be one reason why I liked it, in this time of emotional fraughtness.

    I’ve got Nicola Griffith’s THE BLUE PLACE and Myke Cole’s SIXTEENTH WATCH on the TBR stack now, but before I get to those I may do another round of rereading Alice Degan’s / AJ Demas’ work.

  4. Rachel

    Hanneke, I hope you like Troubled Waters once you get into it!

    Pete, there is possibly nothing at all I want to read right now than nonfiction about pandemics. But I am not at all surprised that all the same mistakes are always made. As far as I can tell, it is impossible for societies to learn anything from history.

    Mary Beth, I’ve got a couple of the Alice Degan novels on my Kindle. I’ll probably try them pretty soon since I’m pretty confident I’ll like them a lot.

    Mary, I’m not sure how much my reading would have changed except I have been very stressed, not by the Corona or the sudden isolation except very indirectly, but because of having to put everything online for my Bio class. Now that I’m well out in front of the students, I feel a little better about it, although I still detest online-only formats for classes.

  5. SarahZ

    I was already super stressed about family medical stuff (fights with insurance and some upcoming surgeries that got moved to the summer), so I was already in romances and comfort reads mode

  6. Kathryn McConaughy

    I’m pretty much buried in shoujo manga right now, which is new for me… I’d say that is definitely a response to stress. Once in a while I read through the next Book of Amber by Zelazny. I happen to have the collection of all 10 in my TBR pile, which is great now that the libraries are all closed.

  7. Charlotte Taylor

    I loved the first half of Castle Behind Thorns! I’m trying to declutter by reading all the books I have out from the library, but it would probably be nice for me to read about some nice castle sorting….

  8. Rachel

    Charlotte, what I really should do is read as many books off the TBR pile as possible.

    Spoiler: that isn’t likely to happen.

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